A day after retiring from the National Hockey League, Cam Ward was back on the ice.
No goalie gear this time, though. That chapter of his life has ended.
Ward did some skating Thursday with a few of the Carolina Hurricanes players in an informal workout at Raleigh Center Ice. The players, including goalie James Reimer, did the work. Ward skated, watched and chatted during breaks.
At 35, Ward decided to end a career in which 13 of his 14 NHL seasons were spent with the Hurricanes, in No. 30. As NHL teams begin training camps and get closer to the start of the season, there could be a demand for a veteran goalie but Ward decided the time had come to put away the gear.
“It’s never easy,” Ward said in an N&O interview. “When you make a decision like that and you play for so long, you take into account a lot of things and my family is priority No. 1 for me. It became clear that it was time that I wanted to be home and be with my family and transition to life after playing.
“I always kind of live by the motto that the more fun you have the better you do, and the game was always fun. But when the body starts to feel the grind daily and every practice was going out there and feeling the effects, it became clear that maybe I can’t train and perform the way I expect of myself.”
Ward’s last season in the NHL was with the Chicago Blackhawks, on a one-year contract in 2018-19. That was a big change in lifestyle for Ward and his family, but he’s back in the Triangle, back in the community he calls home.
Signing a one-day contract on Wednesday, Ward retired as a member of the Hurricanes, the team that took him in the first round of the 2002 NHL Draft.
“He came in here as a young kid who was super-talented, something you could tell right away,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Thursday of his former teammate. “It was like ‘Who is this kid?’”
Ward backed up goalie Martin Gerber as a rookie much of the 2005-06 season. But when needed in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the kid played with the poise and polish of a veteran as the Canes fought their way to the Cup.
“You create a bond right away, going through that,” Brind’Amour said. “We’ve always had that and kind of grew up with him here and he grew up with us. Now, we’re even better friends now and our families are tight. It’s a unique relationship. He’s a good, quality person and the kind of people we want around.”
Ward said he did not apply for the position of goaltending coach after Mike Bales, the Canes’ goalie coach the past two seasons, left in June for the Buffalo Sabres. The Canes hired Jason Muzzatti, a former NHL goalie and the goalie coach the past four years at Michigan State, where Muzzatti once was Brind’Amour’s teammate.
What’s next for Ward?
Ward and former teammate Tim Gleason are partners in Vineyard 36, a winemaking business based in Napa Valley, Calif.
“I’d like to be more hands-on and involved with that,” Ward said. “But down the road in due time I’d like to stay in the game at some point. And obviously if I do so, I’d like to be here with the Hurricanes and use those past experiences through the good and the bad and the knowledge of the game to help better someone else.”
Sounds like a future goaltending consultant or coach, doesn’t it?
Ward’s retirement Wednesday elicited a lot of comments and praise. It was noted he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP in 2006 and set several franchise records including most wins (318). Many former teammates and friends reached out to him.
Catching his eye was a tweet by Shannon Szabados that noted when she was 19, Ward helped pay for a new pair of pads while she was playing Junior A hockey in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“Thank you and happy retirement Wardo,” tweeted Szabados, an Edmonton native who would twice win Olympic gold medals for Canada.
“That was a long time ago and very nice of her to share that story and obviously very proud of her career and being an Olympic champion,” Ward said Thursday. “It goes to show that goalies stick together and try to help one another when you can.”